FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF CINEMA VIII – THREE 1940’s FEATURES

ENTER ARSENE LUPIN, STREET OF CHANCE, TEMPTATION

A Kino Lorber Release


Review by Roy Frumkes

Sometimes the Kino Lorber boxed noir releases barely touch elbows with the genre; rather they may contain a mere element or two from those dark 1940s nightmares.



STREET OF CHANCE is adapted from a story by Cornel Woolrich, which right off the bat establishes a kinship with Noir. Woolrich was the most prolific writer who tread the dark streets, and in this fast-paced prowl he gives us an amnesiac protagonist, criminals and cops, a femme fatale, expressionistic lighting, and a badly convoluted plot which fails to resolve all the twists and surprises it dangles in front of us in the first act. It’s not unlike a giallo in that respect. But plenty of noir tropes are there for us to enjoy. Most disappointing in this potpourri is Burgess Meredith, poorly cast and difficult to expend an iota’s worth of willing disbelief on. So it’s a mixed bag.


Charles Korvin stars in two of these three boxed choices. In TEMPTATION he’s a thinly disguised pimp. In ENTER ARSENE LUPIN he’s a mischievous jewel thief, a kind of Robin Hood who gives away his stolen treasures as easily as he acquires them. His is a dangerous, wicked skill, and so it’s rather bewildering (and never explained to our satisfaction) that in the first sequence he falls head over heels for a sexy but emotionally closed down (and nailed shut) heiress (Ella Raines) who sends out nary a single sign of encouragement for him to latch on to. So, while he, suavely continental, remains frustrated by her standoffishness, he has to aim his flirtations at a backup choice - frazzled, humorless gendarme Ganumard (J Carrol Naish) - to get his jollies. Also featured (barely) is Gale Sondegard in a remarkably unrewarding role. It’s a weird piece, not meant to be taken seriously, and there are some fun scenes that make it occasionally worthy of the screening time.


But the film I want to tackle is 1946’s TEMPTATION.


Produced several times previously, and far raunchier in at least two of them, this was due to their being released prior to the villainous dictums of the film production code that hamstrung the industry, particularly and ruinously as concerns this film’s baffling ending.


I enjoyed the film quite a bit, partially because of its stunning look supplied by cinematographer Lucien Ballard, partially because of the array of outrageous dresses, hats and hair worn by leading mannequin Merle Oberon, and partially because commentarian Kelly Robinson’s precise and well-researched lecture quotes, amongst other sources, the best interview Ms. Oberon ever gave, in Films in Review Magazine in 1973. The interview stretched over two days, and I can imagine that the actress must have been tempted to leave the room, so atrocious were the sport jackets worn by the interviewers. But she didn’t flee, and in fact never made mention of their abominable taste. She was a classy lady for sure.


How, you might wonder, am I aware of this uncomfortable behind-the-scenes situation? Well, because I was one of the two interviewers, along with my good friend Al Kilgore, creator of the Rocky & Bullwinkle comic strip. Al was a dyed in the wool anglophile, and he begged me to bring him along since Ms. Oberon was part British (the other part being East Indian, which was kept under wraps during her heyday, else the very same production code which bungled the film’s finale would have kept her from enjoying a career in Hollywood altogether, simply for having been born with mixed blood.


Yours truly (left) with a tolerant Merle Oberon (center) and Al Kilgore (right)

Ms. Robinson quotes my magazine not once, but twice, and at length. She doesn’t mention our names, but I guess that falls under quotation etiquette. Nonetheless I was amused and complemented. And in case you were wondering, 27 years after starring in TEMPTATION she still looked stunning and unique. (Her young boyfriend, Robert Wolders, fluttered in and out on occasion as the interview unfolded.)


In the film Ms. Oberon is a femme fatale who meets her match in local Egyptian lothario Baroudi, played by Charles Korvin (his second appearance in this boxed set). A sexual fixation on the sleazy opportunist brings her to the precipice, but we never see her go over it, a powerful ending that the production code cheated us out of. The actress, however, came out of the experience better than we do – she married her cinematographer, whose use of the visual medium added immeasurably to her on-screen beauty.


As an Extra on the TEMPTATION disc there is a trailer for THE PRICE OF FEAR, a Universal thriller starring Ms. Oberon. It’s rather shocking to discover that in theaters it could be found on the bottom half of a double-bill with THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US. Not that I dislike the third installment in the BLACK LAGOON franchise. I like it a lot. But really…? The Gilman top-billed, this over Merle Oberon!